28 May 2013

Australian worker programme fails to attract Pacific workers

2:15 pm on 28 May 2013

An evaluation of Australia's pilot Pacific Seasonal Worker Scheme shows it has been far less successful than a similar programme in New Zealand.

The report, by the Australian National University's Development Policy Centre, shows only about 1,000 workers a year have been to Australia compared to about 8,000 who go to New Zealand.

The centre's director, Stephen Howes, says Australia's scheme is being held back by red tape, high agent fees and a lack of commitment to the scheme by the government.

But he says the biggest challenge is another long-running scheme that make backpackers cheaper to hire than Pacific migrants.

"There were complaints from industry about a labour shortage. At that time the government wasn't prepared to introduce a seasonal worker programme and so it reformed the backpacker scheme. Normally, you come under a backpacker visa for a year, but the government said that if you come for a year and you work for three months on a farm you can stay for a second year and I think by the time that seasonal worker programme got off the ground it had been undermined by this reform."

Stephen Howes says there is support for the scheme in Australia, but it should be promoted more vigorously.